India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his official visit to the UK last week, was met with an outpouring of support from many in the British Indian community – mostly Hindus. PM Modi received red carpet treatment from the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and an ecstatic greeting from 60,000 of his fans at Wembley Arena on Friday 13 November.
All this mirrored by an increased opposition from many others of that community – including Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus as well as a demand from the Nepalese community to ‘stop the blockade’ and free many of the poorest Nepalese from poverty and starvation. Alongside Human Rights and Dalit organisation these latter groups were at the forefront of a campaign against the UK welcoming the Indian Prime Minister by controversially projecting “Modi Not Welcome” on to the Houses of Parliament. Following that thousands of individuals and organisations’ representatives demonstrated outside No. 10 Downing Street and Parliament Square on Thursday, 12 November, under the slogan #ModiNotWelcome.
One of the major concerns of the Indian prime minister’s critics is his leadership of the state of Gujarat over a decade ago when a pogrom by Hindu nationalists saw as many as 1,000 killed, mostly Indian Muslims. Modi was accused of condoning the violence and as a result was banned from Britain, the European Union and the US for 10 years. Those protesting were also deeply concerned about the escalation of intolerance, intimidation and violence against Dalits, Muslims, Christians and women, as well as erosion of cultural and academic freedoms since Modi came to power in 2014.
A large number of the UK academics researching development in India, UK based human rights NGOs and activists called for the human rights abuses on Modi’s watch to be questioned in the public domain. The Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and 50 British MPs have now signed an Early Day Motion, urging David Cameron to address human rights issues in India during his talks with Modi. Jeremy Corbyn was expected to raise the issue of the human rights situation in India with Mr Modi during their private meeting on Saturday 14 November.
There has also been criticism for academics and intellectuals in India about the authoritarian side of Modi’s rule. In October, 40 prominent Indian writers returned top national awards in protest over a “climate of intolerance” in India.
For many Dalits here in the UK they have called the inauguration of the Ambedkar house in North London as an act of hypocrisy. They are shocked that the hero and father of the Dalits who converted to Buddhism should be appropriated in this way. He spent much of his life condemning Hinduism – its practices and rituals which in India alone treated 160 million people as ‘outcastes’ and ‘untouchables. Read here the response of UK Dalit organisations to Modi’s inaugurating of the Ambedkar house.
Nevertheless, David Cameron and Narendra Modi concentrated on signing trade deals and increasing its collaboration on a range of issues but human rights. The protesters, on the other hand, vowed to continue their campaign and stand in solidarity in their fight for human rights for all.